ARES Security Corporation’s sophisticated AVERT C-2 platform integrates hundreds of disparate sensors and information sources to keep first responders aware of their immediate environment in real-time. In today’s dangerous and digital business environment, that also comes ‘just in time.’
Retired U.S. Coast Guard Commandant ADM James Loy is widely credited with coining the now familiar phrase, “If you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port.” In the choppy wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it had suddenly dawned on lawmakers and maritime security stakeholders everywhere that the nation’s ports were also at great risk, with little being done in a substantial way to prevent a similar tragedy on the water. Out of those concerns came the challenge of achieving what the U.S. Coast Guard refers to as ‘Maritime Domain Awareness.’ Before that could happen, that concept had to be first defined, and then addressed in an orderly fashion.
The first, hurried effort to create robust domestic port security predictably involved throwing large sums of money at the problem. Indeed, U.S port authorities and marine terminals have for almost two decades funded security infrastructure, in large part, via federal port security grants. The collective weight of these enhancements left security personnel to decipher multiple streams of new information. Moreover, it quickly became apparent that simply collecting and displaying huge quantities of data was not enough and, in some cases, actually exacerbated the situation.
Amidst hundreds of millions of dollars in security hardware and technology, countless security responders, stakeholders and partners remained in an information vacuum. The dozens of data sources created by the new security measured, by and large, also remained stovepiped. In response, a new tool – CommandBridge – the Mariner Group’s flagship technology, emerged to sort it all out. Then the Mariner Group CEO, Steve Dryden told the ports simply, “You bought what you bought – we bring it all together.” Using sophisticated technology and modeling tools, that’s just what CommandBridge did. That technology – significantly improved – is still in use today.
The AVERT C2 Story
In 2013, ARES Security acquired a majority ownership interest in The Mariner Group, the developers of CommandBridge, and fully acquired the company in 2016. Today, Ben Eazzetta is the CEO of ARES Security Corporation, interim CEO of Confluence Security Group, and a sitting board member for numerous private companies. Eazzetta graduated from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering and master's degree in mechanical engineering. Together with about 50 dedicated technical personnel, Eazzetta’s ARES group is redefining the way the nation’s ports, nuclear facilities and other high profile businesses approach security, define risks, and ultimately control both tasks.
The CommandBridge software solution – now called AVERT C2 – has been around for almost two decades. The solution is currently deployed in one-third of the nation’s top tier seaports but is also utilized in other critical infrastructure and public safety sites. For example, ARES recently signed a statewide contract for Florida to unite seaports within the state with state and local government agencies. An ARES spokesperson explained, “Historically, the state of Florida has sustained multiple natural disasters and has identified gaps within the information sharing process during these events. The FSTED Council selected CommandBridge to fill those gaps by strengthening the level of maritime domain awareness, cyber resilience, and communications during natural and manmade events.”
In a nutshell, the platform will include integration with The Maritime and Port Security Information Sharing and Analysis Organization’s (MPS-ISAO) critical cybersecurity alerts. Florida seaports will benefit from the MPS-ISAO’s Cybersecurity Service which advances maritime cyber resilience through the sharing of cyber threat intelligence and coordinated response. The unified solution will be shared with up to 14 Florida ports as well as 10 other state and regional agencies to streamline communications and operations during regional or state-wide events in order to help responders make quick, informed decisions for improved responses.
Over time, the system has evolved in many ways, not the least of which is that AVERT C2 is an entirely new version of the software. The primary evolutions of the software have been focused on regional sharing capabilities and mobile support for operators outside the command center. For collaboration, AVERT C2 now has the ability for organizations to create sharing policies that model MOUs they currently have in place to share information. For example, the sharing of blue force positions to specific partners only during multi-agency events can be easily configured to automatically shut off at the completion of the event. Additionally, by building mobile first user interfaces, field personnel using mobile devices have the same software as operators using PCs in the command center.
Field Tested & Proven
ARES Security recently participated in a ‘DHS Next Generation First Responder Exercise’ to Evaluate New Technologies. ARES Security Corporation partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and other technology innovators to integrate and evaluate advanced first responder technologies. Using their situational awareness platform AVERT C2, the cutting-edge successor of the CommandBridge software, ARES Security integrated over 100 disparate sensors that included biometric, location, HAZMAT, and environmental data streams. During the exercise, which took place in December 2018 at the Port of Houston, AVERT C2 served as the focal point to aggregate, distribute, process and manage information from the first responder’s sensors to improve their safety, response times, and effectiveness. 13 public safety agencies from the Houston area participated in the exercise with the objective of testing leading edge technologies in live HAZMAT, rescue, recovery, and security events.
The situation was based on a HAZMAT scenario. The event started with a Mayday and corresponding alert from a multi-gas and particulate matter detector which was reported in AVERT C2. From that gas alert, the operator could escalate the alert into an event that is preloaded with the organization’s standard operating procedure for responding to HAZMAT emergencies, relevant contact sheets, and any other relevant lists. The operator could then establish the Event view within AVERT C2, marking off important locations and quarantined areas and setting up watch rules that would alert to any incoming traffic that needs to be intercepted.
All responders all had tracking devices which appeared as icons overlaid onto the map view, which allowed Command to keep up with their locations and their vitals in real time. When a victim was located, the responders would place a VitalTag on their chest or finger so Command could then also track the victims’ location and vitals which helps to prioritize care. Throughout the event the various sensors would send alerts into AVERT C2 noting that a victim is in shock when their heart rate spiked, or a responder is in too dangerous of an area if the gas readings were too high. In the end it was very useful to show how AVERT C2 could help connect various organizations and sensors into a singular view to enhance collaboration efforts.
“The DHS Next Generation First Responder exercise proved to be beneficial to all parties involved,” said ARES Security’s CEO, Ben Eazzetta. “The DHS team, the First Responder participants and our technology partners were able to create a real-world test bed for the newest technology innovations that will prove to save lives and resources in the near future.”
AVERT C2 kept first responders aware of their immediate environment in real-time, and also connected and informed on both team and individual status and current situations to aid in overall coordination and effectiveness of life-saving events.
By layering teams and technologies, individual team leaders and coordinators were able to see the big picture and remove clutter from their view to more effectively direct their organization in concert with the overall first responder team. The NGFR exercise allowed ARES to ‘stress test’ its platform in an environment with more users and more technologies than they would normally be able to assemble in a lab or working with a lone organization.
And, as was shown during the recent drill scenario, local security managers customize the AVERT C2 platform ‘on the fly’ to adjust to changing parameters. With proper user permissions Security Managers and other users can build custom on-the-fly rules for virtually any object in the system. For example, a rule can be built in seconds to notify stakeholders if a moving track or tracks (vehicles, vessels, people, etc) enters a security zone or camera field of view. Additionally, sharing policies for any data in the system can be created in advance and modified on the fly at any time. For example, if active data sharing that was preconfigured from one organization to another is comprised due to changing mission circumstances the sharing can be immediately stopped with one click.
Eliminating Stovepipes in a Cyber Secure Environment
AVERT C2 is a web-based system but the data is typically hosted at the customer’s site, in their network, so it doesn’t require them to change their cyber practices/policies. The platform is capable of pulling in alerts from third party cyber anomaly-detecting tools and then creating an event profile based on that alert. Also according to ARES, the legacy CommandBridge had similar capabilities and is currently pulling in cyber informational alerts from MPS-ISAO for the state of Florida.
With AVERT C2, first responders have access to advanced technology and next generation solutions. AVERT integrates all of those systems to eliminate data stovepipes in local security efforts. For example, a large problem that ARES noticed in multiple industries is managing ‘data security’ versus ‘data sharing.’ Although responding agencies utilize these new technologies, not all of them are sharing that pertinent information with their partners due to data security constraints. When responding to emergencies time is the most critical factor and sharing that situational data can save other responders a lot of time which in turn can save lives.
AVERT C2 makes it very easy to create sharing permissions that reflect the current memorandums of understanding (MOU) in place, so when an event is created within the platform, the appropriate data is automatically shared with the appropriate personnel. This enables responders to not only share information throughout an emergency, but now responders can get a complete understanding of the event and even view cameras or other applicable information while in route to the scene.
Fences, cameras, radar, sonar, AIS, fences, cameras, radiation detection portals or monitors – some or all with separate control and access systems – were and are all needed. Most of this equipment, for the majority of maritime facilities, was purchased one at a time, without regard to any other acquisitions. In a world where coordinated terrorist attacks more than likely involve doing something to get your attention in one area while the main event is happening elsewhere, it simply isn’t possible to monitor 50 different data feeds, all operating separately from one another. With AVERT C2, you won’t have to.
The term “force multiplier” is frequently used on the waterfront in many contexts. In short, AVERT C2 helps automate detection and response capabilities. For an example the system can autonomously alert to abnormal activities. So, rather than having patrol forces constantly monitoring certain areas, whether physically out on the water or in command, the command can view the area or send a unit out when activity is detected. Leveraging the AVERT C2 technology and hardware, organizations can maintain or reduce headcount in their security teams. But, insists the ARES team, this doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of people, but instead using those human resources more effectively.
Before the Response: Assessing the Risk
Business leaders with risk management responsibility need a tool that can help validate the effectiveness of a proposed security solution, before they actually invest in that solution. That tool should provide a way to rapidly conduct “what if” analysis related to the various threat profiles that your business is exposed to. That same tool should facilitate the clear communication of the value proposition associated with a specific planned maritime risk management initiative.
AVERT can build a 3D model of a facility or entire site and allows the client to run thousands of simulations (terrorist attacks, natural disasters, insider threats, etc.) against it. This allows them to quantify the effectiveness of their entire security, down to a single camera and is accredited by the Dept. of Defense and Energy and has a DHS SAFETY Act Certification.
ARES uses AVERT models and scenarios in two of its training solutions; AVERT Virtual Tabletop and AVERT Virtual Training. Virtual Tabletop provides decision makers and security forces an exercise environment to evaluate the effectiveness of new or existing policies, procedures and tactics. By removing the limitations and guesswork involved in regular tabletop drills, the firm has created a virtual training environment that goes well beyond the capabilities of normal exercises.
Using the Virtual Tabletop, security personnel can run and control detailed simulations while commanding a virtual blue force against adversaries and see the real-time impacts of their decisions displayed on the common operating picture. As a simulation runs, trainees are provided with limited information in which they must make decisions or position their forces based on adversary advances. The trainee’s decisions will update the agents and objectives within the simulation which changes the simulations’ outcome. ARES also uses the models for Virtual Training, which allows users to walk through their facility or replay the detailed simulations in high fidelity.
If you and your team are not so equipped, then it may be time to investigate decision support tools.
The AVERT tool, used as an effective decision support system, has paid for itself many times over in some recent implementations. For example, a major U.S. port recently used AVERT to validate the design basis of a planned security upgrade, eventually resulting in a successful maritime security grant award of $5.5 million. Separately, a private power generation firm recently used the AVERT tool to reduce their annual security assessment budget by as much as 30 percent.
In Use: Yesterday, Today – and Tomorrow
The footprint of the AVERT solutions suite in ports is deep, but is not limited to the maritime sphere. Already in use by fully 67% of all nuclear facilities in North America, the firm has its sights on many other targets. The AVERT software has become the new industry standard for performing quantitative risk assessments. Significantly, the solution is the only completely-off-the-shelf vulnerability assessment software certified by the SAFETY Act. Able to be set up locally in one-off requirements, the system is especially valuable for special events such as high profile bowl games or professional sports championships.
Real port security doesn’t just involve what’s inside the fence. For port authorities and terminals that were previously focused inward from the perimeter, cooperation with outside law enforcement, first responders, and real collaborative situational awareness hasn’t come easily. But, it is here now.
Command-and-control centers and watch-standers need sharply focused relevant information. They also need a system that will sift through millions of bytes of data to find the one or two bits that allow them to make sense of the larger picture – and to help anticipate the future. If so-called situational awareness is the key to staying safe, then the security challenge facing America’s port authorities has never been more daunting. If that’s the problem, then AVERT C2 is probably the ideal solution. www.aressecuritycorp.com
This article first appeared in the JAN/FEB print edition of Maritime Logistics Professional magazine.